Korea: The churches

Published 2:13 pm Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jesus said: “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)

What surprised me when our group of 34 pastors from Virginia visited churches in South Korea was not the differences. What surprised me were the striking similarities. Except for language, the hymns were familiar, worship services were similar, even the buildings, sanctuary, classrooms and kitchens could easily blend within any small town or large city in America. There were greeters, ushers, children and youth programs and church choirs dressed in beautiful robes.

An expert on the Korean church shared recent statistics showing religious preferences nationwide were: 26 percent Protestant, 23 percent Buddhist, 8 percent Catholic, 14 percent others and 29 percent without religion. Recent years shows large increases in “without religion.” So, Korean and American churches struggle to stay relevant in a culture increasingly drifting away from Christianity and claiming no religion.

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So, if Korean and American churches are mutually struggling, what should I learn from the churches we were visiting?

Our host church, Bupyeong Methodist Church led by Pastor Rev. Hong Eun-Pa, was an excellent example of a large membership church near Seoul. On the Sunday we attended, the sanctuary held several thousand worshipers for three services. Because travel was time consuming in Seoul, many of the members stayed all day to participate in worship, small groups and service ministries.

Rev. Eun-Pa cited several reasons for their success: understanding the importance of prayer and following the Holy Spirit — the daily 5 a.m. prayer service was evidence of that; an organized lay leadership — we saw this in the efficient and enthusiastic coordination of hundreds of ministries throughout the building; continuous discipleship — we heard testimonies of lives changed and renewed; a willingness to sacrifice much for the sake of serving God —enables Bupyeong Methodist to support hundreds of churches and ministries throughout Korea and the world. It was a treasure chest of critical lessons.

The value of what I learned? Priceless!

In Bupyeong Methodist Church sanctuary there were two banners, one with an airplane flying toward a city with the message, “Taking the Gospel, around the World.” Another banner displayed John Wesley on horseback saying: “The world is my parish!”

The churches we visited in Korea truly consider the “world as their parish” and are dedicated about “taking the gospel around the world.”

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@sowingseedsoffaith.com.